California Supreme Court Declines to Create Exception to Privette Doctrine for “Known Hazards”

Three judges sitting behind bench

Attorney Tracy Forbath discusses Gonzalez v. Mathis.

September 13, 2021
Tracy D. Forbath - Lewis Brisbois

In Gonzalez v. Mathis (Aug. 19, 2021, S247677) __ Cal.5th___, the California Supreme Court reversed an appellate decision holding that a landowner may be liable to an independent contractor, or the contractor’s workers, for injuries resulting from “known hazards,” as running contrary to the Privette doctrine.

In Gonzalez, the contractor, who specialized in washing skylights, slipped and fell while accessing the landowner’s particularly hard to reach skylight from a narrow retaining wall that was allegedly covered in loose gravel and slippery. (Slip opn., p. 3.) While the trial court initially granted the landowner summary judgment pursuant to the Privette doctrine, the appellate court reversed and held that the landowner had a responsibility to take reasonable safety precautions where there was a known safety hazard on the landowner’s premises. (Id. at p. 6.) Whether the landowner could have taken various safety precautions also raised disputed issues of material fact precluding summary judgment. (Ibid.)

However, the California Supreme Court concluded that no broad, third exception to the Privette doctrine lies; “unless a landowner retains control over any part of the contractor’s work and negligently exercises that retained control in a manner that affirmatively contributes to the injury [citation], it will not be liable to an independent contractor or its workers for an injury resulting from a known hazard on the premises.” (Slip opn., p. 2.)

Ms. Forbath may be contacted at Tracy.Forbath@lewisbrisbois.com



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